Ninjas Needed

Gather, all you ninjas in training, for the ultimate obstacle course. Challenge your balance, hiding, and throwing skills to earn a noble blade of aluminum foil!

We read Ninja Camp, written by Sue Fliess, and illustrated by Jen Taylor (Hachette Books, 2019). A team of young ninjas gather at Ninja Camp to train and defend the Shadow Blade from a rival camp. A total story time win…this fun rhyming book packs plenty of action and adventure!

You’ll need:

  • 1 black t-shirt
  • 4 paper towel tubes
  • 1 piece of ribbon (ours was 13″ long)
  • Aluminum foil
  • A selection of color masking tape
  • A ninja obstacle course (more on this below!)
  • Scissors and tape for construction

Our story time project consisted of a ninja jacket, nunchucks, throwing star, and a sword. To make the jacket, cut a slit up the front of a black t-shirt (we used a kid’s size L). Then, cut a 2.5″ strip off the bottom of the shirt to create a belt. We offered metallic markers to add some designs to the jacket as well.

ninja jacketOur nunchucks are surplus foam book spine protectors recycled from Princeton University’s Department of Special Collections! But you can also use paper towel tubes. Connect the tubes with a 13″ piece of ribbon secured with color masking tape.

nunchucksThe throwing stars are of the classic origami variety (instructions here). The sword is 2 paper towel tubes connected with masking tape, then covered with tin foil. The hilt is masking tape as well. But the REAL stroke of genius? We added a tassel to the sword hilt, compliments of the Office of Student Affairs at Princeton University. Our tassels were surplussed from commencement, but you can also purchase them rather inexpensively on Amazon.

ninja swordOnce our ninja kids were ready, we gathered at the start of the obstacle course. First, ninjas walked the red masking tape tightrope to build balance skills:

obstacle course 1Next, they entered the forest to demonstrate their hiding abilities. Can you spot the ninja in this photo?

obstacle course 2Then the ninja stealthily moved along a dark corridor and crawled through a tunnel…

obstacle course 3Finally emerging at our throwing star range, where they took aim at targets:

obstacle course 4When the obstacle course was complete, the ninja headed over to the Shadow Blade stone, where they drew their swords under the proud eye of Sensei Katie!

sensei katieFun fact: Katie has a black belt in Tae Kwon Do.

Note to self: Don’t mess with Katie.

Castle, Cats

castle cats

It’s a castle, it’s a tossing game, but mostly this project is about an awesome abundance of…CATS!

We read A Castle Full of Cats by Ruth Sanderson (Random House, 2015). The Queen looooves cats, and they are everywhere in the castle. The king, despite all the cats’ winning efforts (scratching art into the wall, leaving dead mice in his shoe) feels more then a little left out. So he gets a dog. Is the dog there to chase away the cats? NO! The dog’s job is to play with the cats. With the felines otherwise occupied, the king can now spend a little time wooing his beloved wife.

You’ll need:

  • 1 large box (ours was 4.5” X 4.5” x 9” – a large tissue box works too!)
  • An assortment of toilet paper and paper towel tubes
  • Construction paper
  • Scissors, tape, and glue for construction
  • Markers for decorating
  • Hot glue

finished cat castle

First, the castle! Cut the top off a box of your choice, then decorate it with construction paper and/or markers. Our castle towers are shortened paper towel tubes with cone water cup turrets. The flags are mounted on wooden coffee stirrers. We used self-adhesive foam to add some texture as well. Like THIS castle. Just look at that texture!

awesome castleWe also decided to add a carrying handle to our castle, so our towers are hot glued slightly to the front of the box. The handle is a 1.75″ x 16″ poster board strip that pivots on 2 brass fasteners.

finished cat castle handleFinally, the CATS. These are variously-sized toilet paper and paper towel tubes decorated with construction paper. We used self-adhesive foam bits and eye stickers to create the faces, but plain old markers work too!

all the castle catsTo play the game, place your castle on the floor, and then try to toss all the cats into the box. The more cats that land in the box, the more likely the last few will bounce out, so warning…a major case of the giggles may occur!

The Not-So-Secret Garden

the not so secret garden

You had a sneak peek here…today we’ll be sharing the sunshine-filled details of our Secret Garden event, which took place on the gorgeous grounds of Morven Museum & Garden!

Morven Museum & Garden is a historical landmark located in Princeton, New Jersey. It is the former Governor’s Mansion and, for more than 250 years, has been the home of five New Jersey governors and Richard Stockton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Morven’s house, outbuildings, grounds, and new Stockton Education Center are absolutely beautiful. So when they offered their gardens for a collaboration, we jumped at the chance.

Redbud-and-Tulip-poplar-(rt)-Morven_photo by Richard Speedy

Image courtesy of Morven Museum & Garden. Photo by Richard Speedy

Katie and I have been wanting to do a Secret Garden event for ages, and we especially wanted to focus on the novel’s themes of discovery, exploration, playfulness, and interaction with the the natural world. And Morven’s gardens are so beautiful…

exploring the gardenIn the Secret Garden, the 3 children build a private world within their walled garden, and we wanted to replicate that feeling. We found these terrific 39.5″ x 39.5″ x 43.5″ canvas play tents on Amazon (a bit pricey at $65 a pop, but they will be used for other events, so win!):

play tentsThe tents were a HUGE hit, and were in constant use all day long. They were light enough for kids to move around, so there were a number of interesting configurations throughout the day (my favorite being a long tent tunnel). Not far from the tents were wood slice stepping stones, which Princeton University’s Grounds & Maintenance was kind enough to donate…

stepping slicesWe pulled aside 2 of the larger wood slices to make tic tac toe boards. Use a permanent marker or paint to draw the board, and 2 different color rocks for the pieces.

wood slice tic tac toeIn addition to tic tac toe, we had a natural wood ring toss for the younger kids, and this cool Finnish game called Mölkky for older kids…

molkkyYou will find a full description of Mölkky here. But basically, it’s a game that involves some semi-skilled tossing and a little basic math. It’s super chill, super fun, and perfect for families. It also won Green Toy of the Year Award in 2015! A set costs $50 on Amazon, but again, we now have it for future events.

Meanwhile, on the slate patio near Morven’s garden fountain, there was natural paint brush painting:

natural paintbrushesThe brushes are 10″ sticks (thanks again Princeton Grounds & Maintenance!) with various flowers and foliage attached to the ends with rubber bands. Kids dipped the brushes into bowls of water and experimented with the different patterns the brushes created on the slate patio.

If you do this activity at your event, however, have big buckets of water handy, not just bowls. We quickly learned that kids like to carry and move the bowls with them, which inevitably tip over. I had to do a lot of monitoring and refiling to keep the project going.

We also had a very, very popular bubble wand station! We bought three, 15 piece bubble sets with giant wands on Amazon for $8. Plus two, 64oz bottles of solution for $9. We should have bought more solution folks, because we ran out halfway through the event! We recommend one 64oz bottle of solution per hour, minimum.

floating bubble We ran 5 hands-on craft tables at the event as well: nature print bookmarks, paperclip robins, bean mosaics, racing caterpillars, and butterfly feeders.


1: NATURE PRINT PAPER

Nature print paper (sometimes also called sun print paper) is a staple of science classes everywhere. We bought our 5″ x 7″ sheets on Amazon (a pack of 40 sheets cost $11), but to stretch the budget, we cut each sheet into 1.5″ x 7″ strips that would later serve as  bookmarks. All you need are some garden clippings, tubs of water, and paper plates for carrying your creation while it fully dries. Helming the table was Hope, our teen tester, who also volunteers at Morven!

hope and the nature print tableThis photo was taken right before the event officially started. Hope was pretty much mobbed the rest of the day. TOTAL TROOPER.


2: PAPERCLIP ROBINS

paperclip robbinsA robin plays an integral part of introducing Mary to the secret garden, so we borrowed this craft from Family Fun magazine. All you need are a pair of paperclips, heavy weight paper, scissors, tape, and a hole punch. Voilà! Personal robin!


3: BEAN MOSAICS

For a longer, more focused event project, we offered bean mosaics similar to the one pictured above. We provided kids with 3″x3″ squares of poster board. Baby wipes are a good idea for cleaning up hands and work areas, and paper plates are also good for carrying around your creation as it’s drying.


4: RACING CATERPILLARS

 

Honestly, you have to see these things in action to really appreciate them. A bit of folding, a drinking straw, and this little caterpillar really races! We had 2 table top race tracks at the event, and the competition was fierce (but there was plenty of laughter too). If you’d like some folding instructions to display on your event tabletop, you’ll find those here.

caterpillar races


5: BUTTERFLY FEEDERS

champagne-glass-butterfly-feeder_croppedThis project was previously featured in a sneak peek post (which you will find here). But there’s an extra special event connection…Morven’s Head Horticulturist, Louise Senior, was tagging butterflies that day!

butterfly tanksLouise brought out a trio of tanks and monarchs in their various forms to lecture about life cycles and butterfly science. Then she tagged and released monarchs to the skies!

monarch caterpillarpupaehatched butterflies


AND FINALLY…

We did have ONE MORE event activity that day. In the book, Mary unearths the garden key that was buried by a grieving Archibald Craven. In the spirit of her life-changing discovery, we designed a key hunt. We hot glued 6 vintage keys to craft sticks and staked them throughout the garden grounds.

hidden keyEach key was assigned a rainbow color so kids would know when they found all 6. Once they reported their success at key hunt HQ, they were rewarded with a vintage mini key of their choice (and yes, we are STILL reusing those mini keys we bought bulk for this Sherlock Holmes escape room!). We had string handy, in case kids wanted to wear their keys home as necklaces.

The hidden key activity was not only related to the book, it was a great way to simple get out and explore the gardens, high and low, near and far…

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It was a glorious day, and we would like to sincerely thank Morven Museum & Gardens for opening their home to us. Their staff and volunteers were absolutely wonderful. A very special thanks to Curator of Education and Public Programs, Debra Lampert-Rudman, for being so enthusiastic, accommodating, and full of joy.